Is Heart House's 'tough love' the way to help the homeless?

Posted at 11:51 PM, Jan 24, 2018

AURORA, Ind. -- Nichole Hopson became a single mother of four when her husband died. Her family became homeless not long after. On Wednesday night, Hopson was sheltering at Heart House, a unique transitional living facility that forces its tenants to work -- and eventually pay -- in exchange for food and life skills training.

"They offer you things that you could never get if you weren't here," Hopson said. "It means everything."

According to Craig Beckley, Heart House's executive director, the organization's strict approach -- he "will drug test at the drop of a hat," allows no bad language and requires non-working tenants to submit 10 job applications every day -- is meant to disincentivize clients from depending on support systems to catch them in freefall.

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"It's not just get them in and get out, but let's deal with the problem so we can get them healed and they can live a valuable life," he said. "Let's help these men get their lives together, not just warehouse homeless people. They stay here as long as they're making progress."

Tenants get up at 7 a.m. every day. They perform chores. If they have no income, they pay no rent but are required to actively seek employment; if they do have income, they pay a weekly fee that increases each month. 

In exchange, Heart House provides life skills classes alongside basic amenities. Clients can receive training in topics like money management, parenting and nutrition, all of which are intended to prepare them for a more self-sufficient life outside of the program.

"Many times, the homeless are so beat down when they come here that they don't believe in themselves," Beckley said. "You need to press their expectations a little higher than they've ever been. Nine times out of 10, they will meet that expectation."